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Poll says invest Legacy Fund in ND

A recent poll of 500 likely North Dakota voters found a majority want to see more of the North Dakota Legacy Fund invested in the state.

The poll conducted by WPA Intelligence of Washington, D.C., found that 79% of North Dakotans wanted a greater percentage of the Legacy Fund reserves invested in North Dakota projects versus 6% who don't. The poll also found that 72% were in favor of taking additional risk in North Dakota investments versus 12% who were not in favor of additional risk.

The poll was conducted by WPA Intelligence, a public opinion research firm with oversight of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. The survey was funded by the JSDC with a possible cost-share from other economic development agencies.

Connie Ova, CEO of the JSDC, said increased investment by the Legacy Fund in North Dakota could aid a number of economic development projects in the state. The funding source has been considered by the Buffalo City Park project being planned for the Jamestown area.

The North Dakota Legacy Fund was approved by the voters in 2010 and is funded by a tax on oil and gas production. Investments for the fund are handled by the North Dakota State Investment Board which administers a number of funds including the state pension funds, teachers retirement fund and some local government pension funds.

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Currently, the State Investment Board invests some of the Legacy Fund's $7 billion balance in certificates of deposit with the Bank of North Dakota. The Investment Board approved increasing its investment in that program from $300 million to $400 million at its September meeting. The Bank of North Dakota uses that investment to operate a Match Loan Fund to invest in North Dakota businesses.

However, the majority of the fund investments are outside North Dakota and many are outside the United States.

The WPA survey found that investments in CDs by the Legacy Fund were not popular with the public, Ova said.

"They want the Legacy Fund invested in North Dakota economic development projects over stocks, bonds or CDs. And they certainly don’t want the money going out of state,” said Chris Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence.

The survey came after a proposal in September by Jon Godfread, North Dakota insurance commissioner and member of the State Investment Board, to invest 10% of the Legacy Fund in North Dakota. Godfread said at the time of his presentation that investing in North Dakota should be a duty of the Legacy Fund.

The survey found North Dakota voters went beyond that proposal with 78% in favor of the 10% in-state investment and more than 40% in favor of investing half or more of the Legacy Fund within the boundaries of North Dakota.

The next meeting of the State Investment Board is Friday, Oct. 23. Increasing the percentage of Legacy Fund dollars invested in North Dakota could be accomplished by a policy change of the board.

Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools and a vice president of the State Investment Board, called any change to investment guidelines of the Legacy Fund a significant change in policy.

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"There are a lot of moving parts," he said. "It would take a series of meetings not only of the State Investment Board but of other boards as well."

The North Dakota constitutional amendment that created the Legacy Fund does not specify its use but directs the Investment Board to invest the money.

Wilson said the survey could lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2022 when the voters could add the words “within the state” to clarify the current constitutional language. That simple change would require the State Investment Board to invest 100% of the Legacy Fund within North Dakota.

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